21. Silent letters

I’ve got an H in my first name that must feel like the lousiest letter in the world. Sometimes, in spelling out my name, I forget that it was ever there. Oh hello, H. You’re the runt of the family, stuck there between the heavy-lifter, C (doing its best impersonation of a K), and it’s palatal liquid neighbor, the R, who seems to have all the fun. There’s nothing I can do for you, H. Linguistics is linguistics is linguistics. You’re a place-holder that makes my name look less feminine.

Though I tend to just go by Chris, there are another six letters that reveal themselves in official documents and lectures from my mother, the –topher. Here we have another identity crisis brewing since the day I was born. The P and H (poor H!) here are like the Brad and Angelina of my given name, losing their individuality and morphing into Brangelina, or, in my case, the labiodental fricative, F. While the bilabial pop of the letter P and the glottal sigh of the H are, on their own, pleasant sounds, they’ve been banished from the pronunciation of Christopher until the end of time. At least they can party together with the litmus test strips.

There are other letters I think deserve recognition, and an apology, knowing they’ll never share the phonetic spotlight with their neighboring phonemes. The first D in Wednesday. The first R in February. The H in spaghetti. The O and second E (who gets side-swiped by a rogue back vowel, U) in people. The X in xylophone (a real slap in the face, honestly, since it’s one of X’s best words). The B in comb. The N in solemn. The T in potpourri. All these wonderful letters, completely and utterly ignored.

Which leads me to my next point…

These letters deserve recognition, yes, but if we pronounce them then the words will be rendered ridiculous. Don’t say ex-eye-lo-phone. Don’t say pee-oh-pull. And never pronounce the B at the end of comb, tomb, or lamb. So what can we do for them? Honestly? We should put them out of their misery. Cut them out like tonsils. Remove them like wisdom teeth. Why tease them at all? If the word needs a re-write (toom, anyone?), then so be it.

I’d feel a little strange if my name was spelled Kristofer, but I’d get over it. And actually, just as I typed that out and saw Word’s little red squiggle tell me it was spelled incorrectly, I laughed. Wrong? Word, please. It’s more correct than you know.

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3 thoughts on “21. Silent letters

  1. “labiodental fricative” I mean, WHOA. I’m gonna look that one up.
    My thought on the subject? it appears every discipline has it’s necessary, silent supporters. As I read, I thought of the lyrics to a song, “you are the wind beneath my wings !” Kinda like the wonderful person who silently left a huge box of groceries at my apartment doorstep and slipped away without proper thanks or recognition. They knew my husband had left me and a tiny Jenny and Justin and wanted to help but without any glory. So your “H” is the silent hero. The undercover cop who busts a drug ring and temporarily keeps the poison from our little kids, never to be awarded a medal or lauded in the news.

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